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Can Lotus Make A Better Car Then The Elise?

    When I first heard about the Elise I was immediately exhilarated, the knowledge that someone was finally going to build an affordable exotic. The Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi’s EVO are clearly race bred functional driver’s cars but they are not exotics. An exotic brings more to the table then just heart stopping performance, the car has to have a certain panache that says “I am different and I am better”. The Elise, partly because it is a Lotus but mostly because it totally rocks fits this description. The only current Japanese car that also falls into this category of exotic is the twice around the block Acura NSX. The Elise is not a purist Japanese car but a hybrid of Toyota technology and Lotus style and racing heritage. We should see a few more Japanese exotics in the next five years, but I have been wrong in the past. The Nissan Mid-4 was due out a few years ago and never was built and the Toyota GT2000 was also scrapped.

   What Lotus did right with the Elise was by keeping the weight down; the amount of horsepower needed to produce a real racer was reduced. Even though it only has 190 horsepower you can put the Elise up against almost any car with 300 horsepower and it will blow that car away. The Elise is a dependable exotic convertible for under $100k that will certainly turn some heads as you drive around town.

   When I heard that Lotus was making a hard top version of the Elise I knew that I had better check this car out. Upon further investigation what I found was a car that was similar in size, power, and weight to the Elise but possessed a different soul altogether.

   The Exige is not just a hard top Elise; it is a different kind of car for a different kind of person. The Elise and the Exige will draw a lot of attention when being driven around town, the fact is, I have never scene either of these two cars actually on the road. What separates the hardtop Exige, from the Elise, is that the Exige is a take-no-prisoners 2/3 scale formula one race car. In contrast the Elise is a runabout, a weekend toy of rich guys who probably not only own more then one car, they own more then one sports car. Lotus will only bring 300 Exige racers to the US per year vs. 2000 Elise. Although I doubt that they really focused on a cohesive target audience they will have no trouble selling the Exige to 30 something males who grew up loving Toyota’s but want something a little cooler. These guys would mortgage their homes to buy a new Ferrari’s except they never bought houses in the first place. For them, the $54k they will spend on a new Exige will be well worth it to put themselves behind the wheel of a vehicle with incredible track performance. In a recent track test the Elise blew away a boat load of brand name cars some of them with twice the horsepower, because the Elise handles like its on rails. When you consider that the Exige handles even better you know you have something really special in the Exige.

   The Exige body only shares it doors with the Elise. The front of the Exige is longer then the Elise and has a rear wing to increase down force; it handles turns so well that when you exit a highway via a 4 leaf clover the only reason you have to slow down is the car in front of you. Lotus gives you racing slick tires with a couple of groves that stick to dry pavement like glue. The rear mounted engine basically sits in the cabin with you, this lets you know the rpm’s of the engine by the sound it makes. The interior is extremely sparse like a weekend race car. In the same way that the Elise is toy like, the Exige is machine like.

   The Exige will be in dealer showrooms by fall 2005 and if you leave a deposit now you will certainly get one. The only reason not to buy this car is it may be just a little bit too small. When I say this car is 2/3 scale I mean that unless you’re 2/3 size also you will fill up the entire driver’s side of this car. As long as you are less than six feet and weigh less then 200 pounds you should be able to get in and out of the Exige but you should still sit in this car for a while on both the passenger side and the drivers side to get a glimpse of what it will be like it own this car. I would guess that ½ the people who walk out of their front doors convinced they are going to buy an Exige will leave their Lotus dealer without buying one, thinking if only it had been a little bigger. Back in the early seventies when there were many VW Beetles on the road, there were these companies that sold conversion kits to turn VW bugs into race cars. These kit cars looked like small exotics and the kits were fairly affordable but the cars were left a little unfinished. The kind of guy who could have bought one of these kits is the kind of guy who could buy an Exige. If you can sacrifice most creature comforts for the chance to drive something unique, then this car is for you.

    A 4.7 second 0-60 time along with a genuine Lotus emblem on the hood are enough reasons to shell out $54k as long as you can live with go cart low seating. If you ever get a chance to see some early sixties Ferrari’s you will see that some of those cars were small as well.

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